Built from the core team that made Darksiders and Darksiders 2, Texas-based Gunfire Games are taking a shot at going it alone in the world of indie development.

Their latest project, Chronos, is a VR action-adventure set over the course of a lifetime, following one man’s lonely mission to rid the world of a dark and mysterious presence.

Players explore an enigmatic labyrinth, filled with traps, puzzles and hostile creatures, making the most of their annual chance to fulfil their destiny.

There’s more on Chronos to follow, but first – meet David Adams and the rest of the Gunfire team.

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COOL RUNNINGS[divider type=”thin”]

Vigil Games was founded in 2005 before being bought by publisher THQ a year later. Many of the staff from Vigil stuck together following THQ’s eventual collapse, going on to form Crytek USA. But just 19 months later, yet more parent company financial trouble led to another change of scenery, as the managerial staff decided to leave and create their own independent studio, Gunfire Games.

“I founded Vigil with a couple of other guys,” says David Adams, Gunfire general manager. “Joe Madureira, Marvin Donald and Ryan Stefanelli.

“We basically started the company to make Darksiders, and hired most of the guys in this room on Darksiders one, so we were all at Vigil for a long time. Some were here pretty early on, some came on with Darksiders 2, but most of the team’s worked with each other on Darksiders or Darksiders 2. Then after Vigil closed, most of us went to Crytek and worked on a game called Hunt: Horrors of the Gilded Age.”

“We were there for a year, year and a half, then we left to form Gunfire,” he adds.

Darksiders was one of the big name IPs that was auctioned off during the THQ liquidation in 2012/13. Rumours circulated that the likes of Platinum Games were in for Darksiders, but it was eventually snapped up, along with the Red Faction series, by Swedish publisher Nordic Games. The demise of THQ has been seen by some as a hollowing out of the middle of video games, implying that where a spectrum of publishers once existed, now only small, focussed indies or huge AAA companies can survive. But this isn’t the feeling at Gunfire. Publishers like Deep Silver, Focus Home, and Take-Two Interactive have filled the vacuum left by THQ, and there’s a difficulty in definition here. Can companies that make hundreds of millions of dollars really be labelled mid-tier?

“I guess it depends on what you call ‘mid-tier’,” says Adams. “THQ wasn’t mid—tier, at one point they made $1bn in one year. I wouldn’t call that mid-tier, I don’t think you can say a billion and mid-tier in the same sentence.

“There’re a lot of publishers that operate in that space now. I don’t think it’s going away, it’s just different. I think THQ was in an almost big, but not quite big category, and just died off like a dinosaur. They didn’t succeed in becoming big, so that was the end of them. Maybe if they’d stayed mid-tier, then they’d have been fine.”

A scene from Gunfire Games' Chronos

LITTLEBIG STUDIO[divider type=”thin”]

When most people think of indie games, they think about small teams, home offices and one-person passion projects. But Gunfire, like Double Fine Productions and other notable larger indies, bring a new level of professionalism to the table, without compromising on the independent ethos.

“We have 27 people,” explains Adams. “And that’s broken down into different disciplines. It’s pretty balanced, like we have six programmers, five designers, four animators. We founded the studio with 14, and just because of the work, and the things that we’re working on, we’ve been able to bring a lot of people that we’ve worked with before and are still in the Austin community back to us.

“From that perspective, I think we have a good balance for the team, and we’ll continue to grow. We’ve been very fortunate to have the projects that’ve allowed us to pave our own way, as opposed to being operated as a first party studio like Crytek or something. That was big for us, to be able to drive the studio in the right business direction. We wanted to pilot our own ship.”

He continues: “Here’s my personal theory on it. Indie basically means, are the creators calling the shots? With a small team of three guys making a game in their garage, they’re calling all the shots. No one’s telling them what to do, no one’s forcing deadlines down their throat making them plug features into the game. In our case, we have that just because Oculus is such a great publisher. We have free reign to do whatever we want. They’re not making us do things a certain way.

“They’re the first corporate entity that I’ve worked with that actually do give you the freedom to make the game how you like. In that regard, we are an indie team because we don’t have those pressures. It is 100% up to us, we’re making the decisions, we’re crafting the game we want, it’s an IP we own.”

A 'Burner' from Gunfire Games' Chronos

FIRST OF MANY[divider type=”thin”]

Gunfire Games are forward facing and keen to expand, and Austin’s an ideal place to do so.

“If you look, you’ve got a good mix of all different kinds of talent, you’ve got lots of indie,” says Ben Gabbard, another member of the Gunfire team. “When Vigil broke off, there are several studios out there now that’re doing their own thing. You’ve got a good mid-tier of people, a lot of talent, there’s The Guild Hall up in Dallas. Austin is a thriving community, a lot of tech-based work comes out of here, so you’ve got a good pool of candidates.

“And it’s a great place to live. They call it the oasis of Texas, right in hill country, it’s a green and beautiful area.”

So far, apart from their recent remaster of Darksiders 2, Gunfire have focussed on creating VR experiences. Their first game, Herobound: Spirit Champion, was well received, and lays the foundations for 3rd person puzzles and combat in VR.

“I don’t think when we started the studio we said, ‘hey, let’s form a VR studio’,” says Adams. Some opportunities came up to let us work on VR games.

“VR’s one of those things that you just have to experience. You can describe it to someone until you’re blue in the face without them really understanding what you’re talking about, because until you see it, you can’t really grasp the level of immersion you get. As we got more and more into it, we were like, ‘hey, this is actually really cool’.

“The technology’s evolving at a really fast pace, which is fun. It’s an emerging market and changes a lot which is interesting from a development point of view, because you have to change and adapt as stuff comes in. It’s been really fun to work on so far.”

Check back tomorrow for more on Gunfire Games’ latest VR project, Chronos, which takes a step up from their previous efforts, aiming to deliver an unparalleled experience in terms of scope and scale.

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James Billcliffe
Lead Interview and Features editor. Eats, games, and leaves. Tweet at me! @Jiffe93

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